How to Set Up Tab Stops in Microsoft Word

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Make the tab button work for you. You can set up tab stops in Word, remove those you don’t need, and change the default on Windows and Mac.

Microsoft Word has several ways you can customize the layout of your document, from configuring your line and paragraph spacing to personalizing what happens when you press the Tab key.  If using the Tab key to jump to various areas on a line is handy for you, you might be interested in customizing the tab stops in Microsoft Word.

You can set the default, add more tab stops, align them as you please, and even include a leading line. To set up tab stops in Word, here’s what you’ll need to do.

Work With Tab Stops in Word

To use and configure tab stops, you’ll need to head to a specific area in Microsoft Word.

  1. First, open Microsoft Word and select the Home tab.
  2. Then, click the arrow icon on the bottom-right of the Paragraph section of the ribbon to open the Paragraph Settings. Mac users should skip to step 4 below.
    Open Paragraph Settings
  3. In the Paragraph pop-up window, click Tabs on the bottom left.
    Click Tabs
  4. If you’re using Word on Mac, click Format > Tabs from the menu bar.
    Click Format, Tabs on Mac
  5. Once you open the settings menu for Tabs, you can make your adjustments.
    Settings for Tabs in Word on Windows and Mac

Change the Default Tab Stop

By default, Word sets each tab stop at 0.5 inches. So, each time you hit the Tab key, you’ll jump ahead by that distance. If you’d prefer shorter or larger stops, however, you can change this.

Enter a measurement on the top-right section of the Tabs window, or use the arrows to set the Default tab stops value (in inches). Click OK to save your choice.

Default tab stops in Word on Windows

On Mac, you’ll see the Default stops section further down on the right side.

Default tab stops in Word on Mac

Set Additional Tab Stops

If you prefer to leave the default tab stops measurement as-is, you can set up additional tab stops to accommodate your needs.

Enter a measurement in the Tab stop position box at the top of the window. You can then choose the Alignment and a Leader if you like. The Alignment options include left, center, right, decimal, and bar. The Leader options include a dotted line, dashed line, or underline.

Click Set. Then, you can set up more tab stops simultaneously if you like. When you finish, click OK.

Set up tab stops in Word on Windows

On Mac, enter the measurement in the Tab stops box at the top, choose the Alignment and Leader, and click the plus sign. You can then add more or click OK to finish.

Set up tab stops in Word on Mac

Clear Tab Stops in Word

After creating your tab stops, you may decide you don’t need one or two.

Select the tab stop in the list on the left side and click Clear. You’ll see the one you want to remove below Tab stops to be cleared. If it’s correct, click OK.

Clear a single tab stop on Windows

On Mac, select the tab stop in the list and click the minus sign. Confirm your selection and click OK.

Clear a single tab stop on Mac

To remove all tab stops on either Windows or Mac, click Clear All and then OK.

Clear all tab stops

Use Tabs in Word the Way You Want

You don’t have to feel stuck with the default tab stop in Microsoft Word. Not only can you change that default, but set tab stops in Word that suits your own requirements. What’s your favorite way to personalize your Word documents? Let us know in the comments or @ mention us on X.



  1. Alan

    May 1, 2024 at 3:11 am

    Thanks for this but unfortunately I can’t find an answer to this simple question: how can I set DEFAULT tabs with CENTER positions ? You show how to set the default distance between tabs, and that works, but I can’t center them by default, even if I check the Center box in the Tabs window.
    Any hint ? Thanks again.

    • Jeff Butts

      May 1, 2024 at 10:55 am

      Hi Alan,

      Thanks for the question. Unfortunately, Microsoft Word doesn’t offer that option. You can set alignment for custom tab stops, as well as leaders, but not for the default 0.5″ tab stops.

      Thanks for reading!

      Jeff Butts

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